Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buckminster Fuller

It was never my intention to design the geodesic dome. I wanted to discover the principles at work in our universe. I could have ended up with a pair of flying slippers.

                                                             Buckminster Fuller

Richrd Buckminster Fuller remains the most fascinating member of the World War I generation. A business failure and grieving father at 32, he prepared to drown himself. It came to him that he was the product of the things he learned from everyone he knew, and from a chain of people going back to humanity's beginning, so his life was not his own to throw away. Since he had been planning to die, Fuller -- or "Bucky" as he liked to be called -- decided to comit "egocide" instead, and live dedicated to the desires of the universe and the betterment of all people.

For Bucky, humanity was going through its final exam, pass-or-fail, utopia or oblivion. He decided that it would be easier to reform the environment than people, who -- mistakenly -- believe that the world holds too few resources to let us all survive peacefully. His career was one of invention, and he died holding twenty-eight patents for devices to house and serve us better than ever, using less material and energy. He also published over thirty books. Fuller's inventions include a new geometry, a high-mileage-for-its-time car which could turn 360 degrees inside its own radius, and the geodesic dome, a structure which can cover unlimited area without any internal columns or load-bearing walls.

Toward the end of a long, productive life, Buckminster Fuller called us "four billion billionaires who are entirely unaware of their good fortune."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steven Leblanc

If we do not strive to understand what we have done in the past and why, it will only make it harder to get it right in the future.

                                                                            Steven LeBlanc

Archeologist Steven LeBlanc was born in 1943, the same year as Jim Morrison, romance and mystery novelist Janet Evanovich, and Newt Gingrich. He is the director of collections at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, and an expert on the Mimbres Culture of southwestern New Mexico.

In 2003's Constant Battles, LeBlanc and his wife and co-author Katherine Register make the case that ecological imbalance causes human warfare. People deforest or overgraze the places where we live, or breed beyond our environments' carrying capacities, then try to expand our territories by invasion. There has never been an Edenic time in which we were at peace with our environment or each other. LeBlanc's case for this includes the way ancient people sited their villages, ancient skeletons damaged by violence, anecdotes related to early European settlers by native Americans, and the behavior of other primates and remaining "stone age" farmers.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I saw pictures of the devastation on Japan's east coast, and thought we don't need global warming to make us  do the right things. The earth or the sea or the wind can well up in no time, and break our necks. Or our hearts. That could be my house or shop that the flood uprooted and dragged down the street. Planning for sure, but most important are humility and kindness.

I painted the copy of Katshushika Hokusai's Great Wave, with a diagram of four tetrahedrons arrayed to form one larger tetrahedron and enclose an octahedron, twenty-five or thirty years ago. I was into Buckminster Fuller and Hokusai both then.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Betty Edwards

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception, and says, in effect, "It's a chair, I tell you. That's enough to know. In fact, don't bother to look at it, because I've got a ready-made symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don't bother me with this looking business."

                                                                          Betty Edwards

Art educator, Betty Edwards was born in 1926, roughly contemporary with Pop artists like Andy Warhol, not to mention cartoonist and Mad Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman. She graduated from UCLA in 1947, and would have crossed paths there with the first vets returning to college from Europe and the Pacific on the GI Bill.

Edwards is the author of the standard drawing instruction book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Drawing's thesis is that, while language and analysis are functions of our brains' left hemispheres, good drawing is done by the right hemisphere. Our untrained impulse is to use symbols -- circles for eyes, upside-down sevens for noses -- to represent things, but to represent them well, we need to draw what we see, not what we "know" is there. Edwards provides exercises to train us to do just that.

All very interesting, and useful if drawing's your thing, but of no wider consequence. our moment of history we're encountering entirely novel challenges, with stakes never higher. And we're digging in to meet them, believing we already know all the answers. We get to make mistakes (I drew Edward's mouth more widely open than it is in the photograph, and with a fuller lower lip), but we have to try to draw what we see, not what we know is there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frances Moore Lappe

My whole mission in life is to help us find the power we lack to create the world we want.

                                                                          Frances Moore Lappe

Frances Moore Lappe was born early in 1944, when the Allies were beginning to organize the Normandy Invasion, and Allied troops were still bogged down at Anzio. She came to prominence in 1971 with the publication of her best selling book, Diet for a Small Planet, in which she made the case that livestock require many times the protein, in the form of legumes and grains, than they yield, and that it would be more economical for the world to consume the corn and beans directly. (Lappe included nutritional information to assure that readers who changed their diets would get enough protein, and recipes for the unfamiliar new ingredients.)

With co-author Joseph Collins, Lappe followed Diet with World Hunger (Ten Myths), then expanded Ten Myths into Food First, in which she and Collins posed and answered fifty questions which mostly represented misconceptions about hunger and how it might be conquered. The misconceptions include the notion that there are too little arable land and too many people. With copious references, Food First shows that landowning elites make hunger inevitable by planting luxury crops and commodities for export (sugar, coffee, cocoa, beef, corn for ethanol) instead of the crops that would feed local sharecroppers and farm laborers. The book finishes with recommendations for American readers concerned about world hunger:

Don't accept conventional wisdom, be empirical about hunger, and communicate your understanding; work for our own food self reliance; work for American land reform (for instance by changing tax laws so that heirs don't have to sell the farm to pay onerous taxes); eliminate American support for corporations and governments whose agricultural policies starve people.

Lappe has gone on to write and advocate for democracy and justice. She advocates for what she calls "living democracy" as opposed to "thin democracy." The difference is that  thin democracy is limited to elections and supporting candidates -- the democracy of consumers -- while living democracy is a way of behaving -- the democracy of doers. It happens in our culture and at work. Living democracy is an "enlivening culture in which the values of inclusion, fairness, and mutual, accountability show up in a wide range of human relationships."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tuesday Night's Drawings & Gossip

Drawings of Jill from Tuesday night's drawing group. Two-minute drawings, fifteens, and twenties.

Kathy was missing, on retreat with her husband on the family farm, up north. The gossip was that Kathy's husband, an engineer -- of a certain age -- for a German multinational, had been laid off. The company has been moving work from Minnesota to India for some time, and Rick had been able to stay on board until now.

The tribe has claims on its members. In hard times, you share the hardship. In a pinch you work long hours. If it comes to that, you walk the Trail of Tears. Employers usurp the tribe's prerogatives, but aren't bound by the tribe's bond with its member. Work is your life, the biggest single hunk of your precious, finite life. Your colleagues are who you know, your friends. But if the bastards get tired of you, or can get a better offer from some other poor son of a bitch, kiss your friends goodbye. (The "bastards" aren't necessarily wicked. They're clinging for survival to what Paul Hawken calls the planets "new dominant life form.")

In a world that lives on its capital, the irreplaceable stuff we dig or pump out of the ground, nobody's creating wealth. Rick's employer is just a gatekeeper, and so is yours, trying to corner as much as it can of the wealth that belongs to all of us, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans,  Australians, naked Amazonians with bows and arrows. If you can get hired and you cooperate, they'll dole a little of it out to you every two weeks.

It isn't just the money that matters. It's the ownership, the position, the power. Humans are creative, each of us a born genius. Employers train it out of us, beginning with their proxies, the schools. You have to work, and you're incredibly, ninety-ninth percentile,  lucky if your job exercises your kind of genius. If you jump ship, try finding capital for your brilliant idea. Guess who has it. Humans don't need corporations.